Payton Pritchard is stepping up at the perfect time for the Boston Celtics

Boston Celtics guard Payton Pritchard (11) Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Boston Celtics guard Payton Pritchard (11) Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Celtics, like many teams around the league, have been forced to play their recent slate of games shorthanded while they deal with a COVID outbreak spreading throughout their locker room. While they have continued their up-and-down play recently (primarily because Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have been able to stay on the court), it’s clear playing with only eight or nine guys on a nightly basis is taking it’s toll.

The big man rotation in particular has taken a real hit recently. Both Al Horford and Grant Williams have found themselves in COVID protocols recently, which has basically left the rotation to just Rob Williams and Enes Kanter. Williams was forced to miss last night’s action against the Philadelphia 76ers too, which left Kanter and Bruno Fernando as the only two true bigs available to play. Safe to say, that did not go well for Boston.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the guard position. The Celtics have primarily been relying on Marcus Smart and Dennis Schroder for much of the season, but with fewer players being active, Payton Pritchard has seen more minutes open up for him. And after a slower start to the season, Pritchard finally seems to be getting his legs back underneath him, and his resurgence couldn’t have come at a better time for the Boston Celtics.

The Boston Celtics are going to need Payton Pritchard to keep up his recent level of play

After a standout rookie campaign, Pritchard was expected to at least be a sparkplug of sorts off the bench coming into this season. Over the first few months of the season though, that has failed to transpire. With the addition of Schroder to the team, and Pritchard being forced to start the season while donning a mask to protect his face, he stumbled out of the gate and played his way out of the rotation.

Maybe it was because the mask was hampering his abilities, but Pritchard’s shooting regression has been the reason he doesn’t find himself getting minutes consistently. He’s shooting just 34 percent from the field after shooting 44 percent last season. Pritchard was a guy who could initiate offense off the bench last season, and while his opportunities have admittedly been far more limited this season, he hasn’t been able to do that so far this time around.

The recent shortage of players has opened a spot in the rotation for Pritchard though, and so far he has been excellent when called upon. Pritchard has combined for 30 points over the past two games, providing a much needed spark to a depleted bench unit. Not to mention, he’s also shooting the ball at an incredibly efficient clip over that miniscule stretch (63 percent from the field, 50 from behind the arc) which is a welcome sign for Boston.

Pritchard heating up is fantastic news not just because the team is shorthanded, but because the team is going to need him to continue to contribute in this way as the season progress. Pritchard was one of Boston’s most consistent shooters from behind the arc last season, and on a team that desperately needs an influx of shooting, Pritchard could step up and be that guy.

We have also seen the quality of Schroder’s play decrease recently, which could open up more opportunities for Pritchard. Schroder’s production tends to vary wildly on any given night, as he could score 30 or miss every shot he takes. We saw last night against the 76ers that Pritchard was getting minutes over Schroder late in the game due to how both were playing, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see that continue as the season progresses.

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On a team that is desperate for more offensive production even when they are fully healthy, Pritchard’s return to form is a welcome sight for the Boston Celtics and their fanbase. Having a consistent scorer that can come off the bench and reignite a Celtics offense that randomly goes cold for long stretches in invaluable. Here’s hoping that Pritchard can continue to find the bottom of the bucket, because the Celtics are going to need him to if they want to do anything this season.